Thursday, January 28, 2016

In Memory ~ 30 Years Later

Maybe it is growing up on what we called, unofficially, the Spaced Coast, my father an engineer for NASA, that makes the fact that 30 years have passed since that very horrible day stand out as not nearly so long ago. But I know I'm far from alone and that millions of others are feeling that sharp pang of remembrance as well. 

Growing up with rockets, a typical sign of the times
(and a great documentary too)
That day, after sending my children off to school, I'd decided it was too cold (again) for a launching of the Challenger, so I went to the local mall to do some shopping. It wasn't until I saw a small but growing crowd surrounding the window of an electronics shop that it occurred to me something else was going on. 

My first glance showed the space center on the screen and I wondered if it was some sort of anniversary of a particular launch that I'd forgotten about. It only took a few seconds to realize how wrong I was. The newscasters were fumbling, at a loss for words, as no one really understood, in those first moments, what was going on. What we in that crowd did know, longer experienced with live launchings, loudly unspoken in a palpable silence, was that this was completely wrong, that those aboard the Challenger were not going to be rescued, that survival was not possible. 

My first thought was my children. I knew they'd have been out on the playground with their classmates, just as we were as children long before, watching the event happening before their eyes. I wanted to be with them. Right now. Driving home with that devastating burst of trails still in the sky, I thought, all any of us want right now is to be with the ones we love. I think there was a lot of holding our loved ones tight going on that day and into the night, the fleetingness and preciousness of life heartpoundingly carved into our beings after days of so much hope and excitement. 

credit: Jim Cole (AP)
My daughter Sarah and I were talking about this last month, how it shaped a part of her life and the lives of so many of her friends. The strangeness, the awkwardness of parents and teachers trying to explain this horror witnessed by millions schoolchildren, both live and televised (there are arguments that it wasn't watched 'live' in most places but in taped delay - where we live, it was live, otherwise, you say potato, I say potahto)  There was just no good way, in those nights and days to make something good out of something so awful. 

We might have explanations now, but really? It still feels just as wrong and just as sad as that long ago day. 

All extreme explorers face the possibility of plans going disastrously wrong; history is full of their stories. This is one of them. Is it better to stay safely home? I don't think so, not at all. But then, those who don't come back never get to tell us their gladness or sorrow of choices. The risks are known, they take them and sometimes that is all we find out.

In honor of this crew, this day, salud.

Have a teach your children well Thursday. Do something tenderly.


  1. Wiping away tears. I remember exactly where I was at this moment, watching it on a TV in a favorite cafe. Thank you.

  2. I was in 6th grade social studies class. We all went to the AV room to watch it on one of those TV they roll around to all the classrooms. It seemed like time stopped at that moment. I don't know how we all got through the rest of the day, but I remember watching it over and over on the news later that night. :(

    1. Your story reminds me of myself when JFK was assassinated. Such a tender time of our lives, yes. And why I think of the children so much. I'm sorry for these horrible milestones in our lives, and while this one was through the blundering of men and women, it wasn't intentional
      evil. I'm thankful for that.

  3. Yea, the role in TV. Usually, it was for some new fangled audio visual tutorial about why volcanoes blow up, or good citizenship, but that day JFK died, we watched it all day, and it was so strange to get to watch TV in school, all day. I didn't really get it. Presidents didn't get shot, except in history books, and rockets didn't explode, except on July 4th. I long for the innocence of the early 60s. It preserved my young belief that Mom and Dad were always right, cops were all good, and tragedies were just on TV. But the TV changed all that, shortly thereafter. For a while, it brought us the graphics of war into our living room. Now, it just brings us the graphics of politicians needs. I think I'll go watch some Andy of Mayberry...

    1. Thanks for sharing that, it's so true. It's always good to hear someone else expressing the difference of those times to now via the television road. I'm glad I've lived long enough to know the difference, along with so many others. It's a dwindling tribe but we're still going to beat that drum!